Qinqiang is one of the oldest theatrical forms in China. It originated in Shaanxi and Gansu, and has been inscribed onto the first National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in China. The vocal style is typified by its open, robust tones, with sonorous ‘attack’ notes mingled with poignancy. The flamboyant presentation style seems to have come from the rustic, forthright character of the Shaanxi people in northwest China.
The Youth Experimental Theatre of the Shaanxi Traditional Opera Research Institute will be performing one of the eight most famous full-length operas in Shaanxi theatre, Zhou Ren on the Way Home. It is a demanding performance for the male and female lead actors in terms of singing and acting. Excerpts from the play are often performed as self-contained works. The actors also need to demonstrate ‘masterly skills’ to externalize the inner turmoil of the characters. For example, Li Xiaofeng will perform ‘rolling on the floor and hair flinging’, ‘leaping in mid-air’ etc. to suggest the passionate feelings in the character; Li Mei will perform ‘the ghost’s gait in walking’ and ‘blowing fire’; and Li Dongqiao will portray the fiery character of Wu Zixu with his famous stylized movements as a xusheng (bearded male).
This opera, also called Tears of Mandarin Ducks, is one of the most famous eight full-length masterpieces of Qinqiang. The attraction lies in its complicated, twisted plot and its wonderful portrayal of the characters, like Zhou Ren’s faithfulness, Li Lanying’s valor and Feng Chengdong’s treacherousness. It is a demanding performance for the male and female lead actors in terms of acting and singing. The actors also need to demonstrate ‘masterly skills’ to externalize the inner turmoil of the characters. For instance, Li Xiaofeng will perform his acclaimed skills of ‘rolling on the floor and hair flinging’ and ‘leaping in mid-air’ to suggest the passionate feelings in the character which enhances the dramatic conflict.
The story takes place during the reign of Emperor Jiajing of Ming Dynasty, when the prime minister, Yan Song, is in power and his corrupt practices lead to the demise of many loyal courtiers. Du Luan is one of the upright high-ranking officials who falls victim to Yan’s tricky plot, and his son, Du Wenxue, has to seek shelter in remote areas. Before setting off, Du Wenxue seeks his best friend, Zhou Ren’s help to take care of his wife, Hu Xiuying. Yan Nian, Yan Song’s imperious and avaricious butler, has long coveted Hu’s beauty, and seizes the opportunity of Du’s absence to force Zhou Ren to send Hu Xiuying to Yan’s residence after endowing him with an official position. To protect their friend’s mate, Zhou’s wife named Li Lanying, marries Yan Nian by disguising herself as Hu Xiuying and tries to stab him. As her attempt fails, she commits suicide, which brings Zhou Ren deep sorrow. Several months later, the court condones Du Wenxue. As the news of his wife’s death fills Du with uncontrollable indignation, he beats Zhou Ren. At the moment, Hu Xiuying rushes to meet her husband and informs him of the whole story. Du realizes his fault and hurries to the tomb of Li Lanying to show his repentance and comfort Zhou Ren.
Cast: Li Xiaofeng, Li Juan,Wang Xiaoping, Li Qing, Cao Puchao, Chen Kui, Zhang Bo
This is an excerpt from the full-length masterpiece of Qinqiang Leaving Tangyi, and is a demanding performance for actors specializing in the role type of xusheng (bearded male). Although wearing the martial robe, the helmet and the sword, the actor has to perform in an open and robust way, especially when opening and reading the letter. The exaggerated movement embodies Wu Yuan’s fiery character and shows the distinctive features of Qinqiang.
Based on the real history of the Spring and Autumn Period, the story centers on the famous avenger, Wu Yuan. As the king of Chu violates moral principles by marrying his son’s wife, Wu She, the teacher of the prince, counsels to the king at the risk of his life, and is sent to prison. Fearing the revenge of Wu She’s sons, Wu Shang and Wu Yuan, the king forces Wu She to ask them to leave Tangyi for the capital in hopes of killing the three together. After reading their father’s letter, Wu Shang and Wu Yuan feel puzzled about the content and make clear what has happened by inquiring the messenger. Wu Shang then decides to show his loyalty to the kingdom by obeying his father’s ‘order’, and Wu Yuan attempts to seek shelter in other kingdoms to preserve their family’s bloodline.
Cast: Li Dongqiao, Liu Zhaoliang, Chen Kui
This excerpt is distinctive for the actress’ singing, acting and dancing with fans, which shows the unyielding character of the maid.
Based on the plot of the classical novel, The Dream of Red Mansions, the excerpt depicts the character of Qingwen, a beautiful and unyielding maid. One day, Qingwen breaks her master, Baoyu’s fan incautiously when helping him change the coat. Baoyu scolds her for her carelessness. Qingwen retorts sharply and enrages him. Later Baoyu shows his apology by letting Qingwen do what she likes to do, and the maid triumphantly tears not only her master’s fans but also those of other maids.
Cast: Li Junmei, Guan Xiaoliang
The excerpt is famous for the female lead actor’s skill of ‘flying the silk’ which externalizes Dingxiang’s sorrow and indignation when she suffers humiliation from her husband. Compared with similar skills used by actors of other operatic forms, Qinqiang actors’ technique of ‘flying the silk’ is more elegant as the handle is not used.
The poor pedant, Lu Tingyi dreams of his fame and wealth from dawn to dark. One day, when he returns home from the capital, the news comes that he has passed the imperial examination and won the title of Top Scholar. Lu immediately shows his pride and authority to his wife, Dingxiang. As she damps his robe when bringing him water to wash his face, Lu gets indignant and threatens to divorce her. Dingxiang cannot bear his haughtiness and pulls the water on his robe. At the moment, the messenger comes to inform that Lu’s title is nullified as he has plagiarized in the examination. Dingxiang leaves him, and Lu can do nothing but to regret.
Cast: Ren Xiaolei, Li Xiaoqing
The excerpt is from the masterpiece of Qinqiang Wudian Hill, and is a demanding performance for actors specializing in the role type of zhengdan (married woman) in terms of singing, dancing and acting.
Wang Baochuan, the daughter of the Prime Minister of Later Tang Dynasty, married Xue Pinggui in defiance of her father’s opposition. After their marriage, Xue Pinggui is sent to fight with the troupe of West Liang Kingdom. Because of the trick of Wei Hu, Xue becomes a captive and is forced to marry the princess of the enemy country. After eighteen years, after receiving the letter written in blood from Wang Baochuan who has been waiting for Xue’s return, Xue Pinggui gets the princess drunken and flees to his hometown. At Wudian Hill, Wang meets her husband but fails to recognize him at the first sight. To test her chastity, Xue Pinggui coaxes Wang Baochuan and is rebuked by her. He follows her to their humble house and declares his identity. The couple reunite at last.
Cast: Li Juan, Ding Liangsheng
The two excerpts are from the masterpiece of Qinqiang, Touring the West Lake, which is renowned for the highly demanding skills. Li Mei will perform ‘the ghost’s gait in walking’ and ‘blowing fire’ to show the valor and anger of Li Huiniang when fighting with the assassinator. Li Xiaofeng will show his acclaimed technique of ‘hair flinging’.
Li Huiniang, a beautiful young girl of humble origin, is forced to become the concubine of Jia Sidao, a notorious prime minister of South Song Dynasty. By occasion, Li sees Pei Ruiqing, a handsome young scholar and falls in love with him. Hearing the news, Jia Sidao kills her cruelly. It is thanks to the Earth God’s help, Li’s spirit gains a magic fan, with which she manages to meet Pei Ruiqing. At the moment, the couple encounters the assassinator sent by Jia Sidao. By using her valor and the magic fan, Li defeats the attack and saves the life of Pei Ruiqing.
Cast: Li Mei, Li Xiaofeng, Zhao Danhong, Zhang Bo